A team from the University of Basel in Switzerland released a paper in 2012 discussing research they had conducted on the impact of firm-created word of mouth communications versus user-generated social media content. The objective was to determine which type of content has the greater effect on consumers’ attitude towards brands and purchase intent. In other words, what’s driving your sales? The content that you create or the content that consumers create?

The research was based on 20 best-selling brands from the tourism, telecommunications and pharmaceuticals industries and also considered the role of traditional advertising such as television.

What the research found

Having combed through the research findings, I wanted to offer some of the key take-aways.

Below is a scary looking graph. So I’ve highlighted with purple the parts you need to consider. And I explain what it all means below. But first, some terminology:

  • Functional Brand Image: Associations that the consumer makes with the functional attributes of your product
  • Hedonic Brand Image: Any associations that are unrelated to specific product attributes

Impact of firm created social media content

Here’s how to read that.

I’m going to work backwards. As expected, Brand Attitude has a strong effect on Purchase Intention. The number one driver of Brand Attitude (among the options studied) is Functional Brand Image. In fact, it was much stronger than the other factors. And the thing that best drives Functional Brand Image is Firm-created word of mouth or social media content.

Let me put that all into plain English

Think about the purchase funnel.

The first step is Awareness. Traditional media, such as TV or print ads, works best for increasing Brand Awareness.

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The next step is Consideration. This is when consumers evaluate their options and often look to the Internet to make a more informed decision. Firm-created word of mouth or social media communications has a stronger impact on how consumers perceive a brand than user-generated content does.

So what should you do?

Put more resources into creating amazing content

Consider Old Spice and what they achieved with the Smell like a man, man campaign featuring Isaiah Mustafa. They effectively used Twitter and YouTube to create an obscene amount of content and media attention.

Or Red Bull, who is the largest producer of social media content in the world. They have an in-house media company that works to create unique content (such as Felix Baumgartner’s highest skydive).

It’s all of that amazing content that is driving in-store purchase. In part because amazing content drives earned media (the unpaid attention you get from the media).

So consider how you are spending your social media budget and if you are spending enough on quality rather than quantity. The best social brands drive the online story through content creation.

Does that mean you can ignore user-generated content?

Absolutely not!

Firms have almost no ability to affect the Hedonic Brand Image (again, that’s consumers perceptions of your product beyond how they feel about specific attributes such as size or color), which is still important.

Also, firms can quickly face a social media nightmare over negative user-generated content. So ignoring it can very dangerous to your brand.

Let me know in the comments what your experience has been with firm-created versus user-generated content.

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(Cover photo courtesy of StockSnap.io)